Monday, June 07, 2010

Zoukfest Day 01: early PM

Trying a slightly different approach this year w/ ZF blog: instead of a long, semi-carefully-composed tome assembled in the early morning, commenting retrospectively on the events of the day before, am going to trying spot-reporting (sorta expanded Twitter feed).

Nice orientation last night--chance to see old friends, some of whom haven't been back to ZF for a number of years. Interesting classes offered--new staff (Will Harmon, Blayne Chastain, Martin Hayes) bringing great new vibe to the mix. Doug Goodhart holds forth, playing agogo, on rhythm as comprising "the figure and the ground", Moira Smiley leads the room through a call-and-response world tour of global vocal styles, Luke Plumb lays it down on mandolin.

Then adjourn to one of the two session pubs for which Zoukfest has engineered a welcome: the Two Fools Tavern, good friends to the music for a long time now, and a local pizza joint. I've said before that, for any regional/local grass-roots arts initiative to flourish, it needs spaces: music houses or pubs in which management understands that the intangible benefits music in their rooms provides are nevertheless quite concrete.

Good food at the Two Fools, management comps the drinks for the players, and before long we're around a long table with Messers Harmon, Hayes, Plumb, and company. Nice evening of Clare-and-other tunes ensues, with one of the nicest aspects of the right kind of festival sessions: the sense that these are old and new friends having a conversation, renewing (or forging) acquaintance, getting to know one another better--and that the music is only a part of the process. The music is better precisely because it is serving this larger purpose. Pleasant evening, we hated to leave, but it's only Sunday--and Monday morning of a festival week is entirely too soon to start out sleep-deprived (we'll save that for Thursday or Friday, when we'll run on caffeine and adrenaline).

Morning classes done: great (small) group in the "Playing for the Sets", but with a good parity of goals & vision; all seem to have "signed on" for the idea of learning to play the tunes better for dancing. A lot of musicians--especially American musicians--learn to play the Irish dance tunes in all kinds of circumstances, and a lot of them--again, especially the Americans--could stand to have more time at actually playing the music for dancing. So the "Playing for the Sets" class is about how to play the music for dancing. In acknowledgment of Mr Hayes's presence and the impact of his family's Tulla Ceili Band upon set-dancing, we're focusing on their sets, and the tunes they played for the Clare Plain and the Clare Lancers, probably the two most widely-played and widely-danced sets. Will probably also pull in the Sliabh Luachra set, just to get some polkas & slides in with the preponderance of Clare reels, and maybe the final figure of the Caledonian, for hornpipes.

Then a great inaugural meeting of Stanley Greenthal's "Feist Breizh" class on Breton music, which both Maestro Doug Goodhart and Dr Coyote are auditing. No doubt each of us could learn these tunes on our own, but when you have free access to somebody with as much knowledge and musicianship in the world of Breton dance tunes as Stanley, you take advantage! And, just speaking for myself, it's a huge, welcome luxury--kinda like going to a spa, only for musicians instead of rich folks--to have somebody else teach you the tunes, when you are usually at the teaching, rather than receiving, end of the experience. Beautiful set of an-dros in a great bouzouki arrangement from Stanley.

Then lunch at the UNM cafeteria, which is a pleasant, well-appointed place with good food, but which we just happen to hit right at the same time as the literal, physical waves of schoolkids who are doing their pre-college summer experiences and elbowing their way past us. Once through that, a pleasant lunch with Will Harmon and Dharmonia, before we head back to the air-conditioned comfort of the SUB to practice, prepare, and generally crank-up for the afternoon's classes: another audit of Professor Doug Goodhart's West Virginia long-bow fiddle class (Dr Coyote will never be a fiddle player, but as a clawhammer banjoist, it's pretty useful to know what the fiddlers want to hear), and then "Playin' in the Band", the Doc's new offering on ensemble approaches to arranging and presentation.

Goin' good so far! Thanks, ZF Board, for making it all happen!